An innovative competition run by Buckinghamshire Freemasons is confronting stereotypes by giving young people the chance to show why they care. Sophie Radice reports from the ihelp finals
The atmosphere in Beaconsfield Masonic Centre is buzzing with excitement. Five youth groups from Buckinghamshire have made it into the ihelp finals. Over the afternoon each team will make a presentation to a panel of judges to convince them that they deserve the top prize of £5,000 to fund their community project.
Each team is different. There’s Misunderstood, a street dance group who have raised £4,000 to build a youth club. The Leon School team has been making beautiful bird feeders for a local old people’s home and 1st Stokenchurch Scout troop has been running respite camping weekends for young carers.
Jan Smith from Leon School explains how much being a finalist means to the competitors: ‘Most of our kids have difficulties with learning, and presenting the project to the panel is particularly challenging for them. But being a finalist has been such a boost and the responsibility of putting their case forward has really increased their self-esteem.’
The ihelp project is the brainchild of Buckinghamshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master Mike Stimson and ihelp’s president Eugene Matthias. Three years ago, the two Freemasons found themselves talking over a pint about the mismatch between the young people they knew and the poor image the press gave them.
‘There were so many negative articles about the behaviour of youths and it just seemed so unhelpful. We thought about how great it would be if there was a Britain’s Got Talent-type contest to showcase the good things that young people do for their community,’ says Mike. The idea fitted in well with initiatives set up in 2006 by the then Provincial Grand Master Ray Reed to promote the work that Freemasons do in the community, as well as talk more freely and openly about their fraternity.
Turning an idea into ihelp
With approval from Ray and Deputy Provincial Grand Master Clifford Drake, Mike and Eugene worked together in conjunction with Provincial Information Officer John Poulter and Chris Coombs to roll ihelp out across the Province. ‘We thought up the slogan “Turn Hoodies into Goodies” and reached out to Scouts, Girl Guides, Air Cadets, Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme participants, youth clubs, church groups and schools. The response was amazing,’ remembers Eugene.
Mike explains how the ihelp idea fitted in with the concept of promoting Freemasonry within the community. ‘We already had a big display explaining the Craft, which goes round the local fêtes and community events. So ihelp was the next step,’ he explains. ‘We wanted ihelp to be different. We wanted to encourage youngsters to be the leaders of tomorrow and the successful projects were those led by the kids themselves, whether they’d been running for a while or just got off the ground. Overall, we wanted to ensure that each project embodied our values of friendship, decency and charity. That’s the modern way of explaining brotherly love, relief and truth.’
With the ihelp team constantly being asked to give talks about the project, there has been a great deal of interest in ihelp from local authorities, district councils and local businesses. Freemasons in other counties are now considering taking up the competition and there has been support from the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, who visited Buckinghamshire in the summer of 2010 to see Freemasonry in the Community projects.
Promoted around the Province through town and village shows, the ihelp project is now in the fabric of Freemasonry in Buckinghamshire. It was through these shows that John made contact with Sir David Jason, who agreed to back the scheme.
Back at the competition, the teams are waiting to make their presentations. Each team is cheered when they go to present in front of the panel and when they come back there is a feeling of real camaraderie rather than rivalry. In the hall where the presentations are being made, the judges do their best to put the young contestants at ease. One of the judges, Clifford, is asked to be part of the Misunderstood dance troop and he rises to the occasion. Donning a large gold chain and a backwards cap, he shows himself to be surprisingly good at following the street dance routine.
With all the presentations making convincing cases for why they should win, the judges have a particularly hard job this year in deciding who should take first prize. In the end it goes to the 1st Stokenchurch Scouts, whose presentation, although perhaps lower key than some of the others, proves to be such a worthy cause that the judges felt they could best benefit from the top prize. Leon School and their temple-like bird feeders get the second prize of £1,000.
After a long day with a lot of laughter and some tears, each team comes away smiling with a generous cheque in their hands. As Emily and Chloe from the 4th Taplow and Hitcham Guides, who raised money to take children with severe joint problems skating, enthusiastically explain: ‘We got so much out of coming here today and being runners-up. It was a great experience learning how to speak to an audience and present our case. We loved it!’
All aboard for a fun day
Masons from Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire raised over £42,000 at the Chiltern Centre Diamond Jubilee Family Day at Fawley Hill, near Henley, in Oxfordshire. Held at the Fawley Hill Railway and Museum, thanks to the generosity of Sir William and Lady McAlpine, the event was in aid of the Chiltern Centre for Disabled Children, which has lost significant government funding.
Chiltern Centre Chair of Trustees, Paul Barrett, said the day ‘exceeded expectations with more than 3,000 people attending’. The masonic team was led by John Clark (Buckinghamshire), Roger Hampshire (Oxfordshire) and Gerry Hann (Berkshire).
As we all know, time seems to go by at an ever-increasing rate and, with that in mind, our great celebrations in 2017 are not that far away. Just think, as the Mother Grand Lodge of the world, we will be the ﬁrst Grand Lodge to reach three hundred years – what a fantastic milestone.
On this subject I want to address a point of huge signiﬁcance. The Pro Grand Master in his last Quarterly Communication speech, which you can read in this issue’s Senior Insights, stressed that this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to celebrate the occasion is for everyone. It is quite simply the members’ celebration. To that end we will be working tirelessly with the Provinces and Districts to make this a memorable experience for us all.
Our magazine continues to go from strength to strength and this is supported by a recent online readership survey. We were particularly impressed that forty-six per cent of our readers’ wives and partners are now enjoying the magazine. I have also just heard that Freemasonry Today has been shortlisted for an award by an external body as a membership magazine that has made the most progress for its readers. This is fantastic news.
In this issue, we ﬁnd out about brethren who are inspiring communities, challenging preconceptions and contributing to society. We ﬂy back to the Second World War to ﬁnd out how Squadron Leader, mason and secret hero Jerry Fray played a covert but hugely important role in photographing the destruction wrought by the Dambusters.
We explain why RMBI homes are now using pioneering techniques that focus on the quality of life for someone with dementia. And we go along to the ihelp ﬁnals to report on how Buckinghamshire Freemasons are giving young people the chance to show they care about the communities they live in.
I hope you enjoy the issue and that you and your families have a wonderful festive season.
Promotion has come quickly for Mersey Valley Lodge of Installed Masters No. 9057 (which meets in Warrington, Widnes, St Helens and Leigh in the Province of West Lancashire) member John Bartley since becoming a member of Probus Ante Meridiem Lodge No. 9195.
Just 11 weeks after he became a joining member of Ante Meridiem Lodge which meets only four times a year, John was installed as Worshipful Master at the meeting in the Masonic Hall, Sidcup, in the Province of West Kent.
Among the many guests present was Derek Hunt who travelled more than 220 miles from Warrington to see his friend of 50 years installed. Derek gave the address to the Worshipful Master who he proposed into Mersey Valley shortly after its consecration in 1983. John has been a regular visitor to Derek’s mother lodge - St Oswald Lodge No. 5170 which also meets in Warrington for more than four decades.
It will be a special year for John for apart from being Worshipful Master he will also be celebrating his 80th birthday.
Despite John’s apparent rapid promotion, he was not a newcomer to Sidcup as he has been a tyler there for several lodges for some time. At the committee meeting where John’s application to become a joining member was on the agenda he was asked if he would like to progress in the Lodge. He said he would so at the next meeting when the ballot took place for him to join he also became master elect!
John joined Freemasonry in Cheshire in Egremont Lodge No. 2872 in 1959 and became its WM in 1973. He was appointed as a Past Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in the Province of Cheshire in 1984.
In 2004 John and his wife Jeanette moved from the north to Masonic accommodation in Aylesbury and in 2009 he was exalted into River Chapter No. 5126 in the Province of Buckinghamshire. Following his wife’s death John moved to the Duke of Kent Court in Chislehurst to be nearer his daughter and his skills as a tyler were soon in demand.
He is tyler at Sidcup for Alma Lodge No. 9792, Burnt Ash Lodge No. 6285, Falconwod Lodge No. 5826 and Sydney Lodge No. 829. He is also janitor at Sidcup for Bexley Heath Chapter No. 4918, Burnt Ash Chapter No. 6285, Ideal Endeavour Chapter No. 7379, Manor Way Chapter No. 6161 and Sydney Chapter No. 829. He is also tyler at Great Queen Street for St James Union Lodge No. 180.
When John completed 50 years as a Freemason he was sent a commemorative certificate by the Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire, Peter Hosker, which was presented to him by David Bearman, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master of the Province of West Kent at a coffee morning in the home where John lived.
John is planning to join Probus Ante Meridiem Chapter in September but is not expecting rapid promotion there.
Grenville Lodge No. 1787, is the first lodge in the Province of Buckinghamshire to be admitted to the UGLE Universities Scheme. With two Nigerian students from the University of Buckingham joining the lodge in April 2012, it is the 52nd lodge to be admitted to the scheme.
Buckingham is the only private university in the United Kingdom and was opened in 1973. It was the first UK university to condense the academic content of a standard three-year degree into a two-year programme, running over four terms per year, and 80 per cent of its students come from overseas, although many stay in England to work or gain postgraduate qualifications. It is hoped that the scheme will also further enhance the link between the lodge, the university, the Province and Freemasonry in general.
The Epilepsy Society has received a £38,000 grant from the Grand Charity to help fund research
Professor Sanjay Sisodiya, the society’s head of genetics, said, ‘I am grateful to The Freemasons’ Grand Charity for this generous grant. Genetics research is very important, with changes such as deletions and duplications in a person’s genome recently emerging as important risk factors for epilepsy.’
Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson and Provincial Grand Secretary Derek Watts visited the charity’s site at Chalfont St Peter. ‘Sometimes, such changes have led to the identification of a particular gene, alterations in which are a direct cause of the epilepsy. Over time the understanding that this brings may prove to be the best way to find new treatments for epilepsy,’ said Professor Sisodiya.
For more information on the Epilepsy Society please visit www.epilepsysociety.org.uk
Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012
I greatly appreciated your report in the autumn issue on Epilepsy Society. The support that has been given by the Grand Charity is immeasurable. My son, a research scientist, was diagnosed while completing his PhD. However, he went on to research stem cell analysis, cancer of the brain, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy in the US and Germany. Unfortunately, employment in the UK proved difficult, which emphasises a point made in the article. As parents, although aware of occasional seizures we were never totally aware of the traumatic consequences that could happen at any time. It is this concept that the general public are not aware of.
The two-hour-long games included indoor and outdoor activities such as darts, skittles, boccia, indoor archery and golf, giving both generations
a chance to chat and mingle. Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson said, ‘The judges were amazed at the way all the pupils at the school were inspired by ihelp to help others. They developed their ideas to fit the aims of the competition, particularly the way they worked together as a team to have fun helping others. Their efforts mirror perfectly Freemasonry’s aims of friendship, decency and charity. We started the ihelp project to show that youngsters do so much for the Bucks community. They are our future.’
The students beat Stokenchurch Scouts into second place, who won £1,000 for regenerating a local graveyard. The finals were held at the Beaconsfield Masonic Centre, and all the finalists received £250 for reaching the last stage. A total of £14,000 was available, and heats were organised at various masonic centres around the Province.
The cheque – part of a total donation of £36,000 over three years – was presented by incoming Bucks Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson, to help fund THINKBIG, a project supporting children in care. It will assist 10 A-Level students, who have no family support, in achieving their academic potential.
The Foundation, which is based at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, provides a mentor to help students complete their studies. It also offers internships, training in interview skills and business writing, as well as financial support.
HRH the Duke of Kent explains why Freemasons need to not only act as mentors but also ambassadors
Grand Rank should be regarded as a challenge to greater effort and as an incentive to shoulder greater responsibilities. Some of you already hold executive appointments in the Metropolitan, Provinces and Districts. All of you, whether you hold these appointments or not, must remember the importance of training the next generation, which is precisely why the Mentoring Scheme has been set in motion.
The Mentoring Scheme is designed eventually to mentor members at all stages of their masonic progress. Initially this will be especially for candidates during the three degrees and to encourage them to continue their progress into the Royal Arch. All Provinces now have a Provincial Grand Mentor who will be responsible for ensuring the selection of a mentoring coordinator in each lodge. The mentoring coordinator, in turn, will select the member in the lodge with the right personality and knowledge to actually do the mentoring of each individual. The Pro Grand Master announced to the Provincial and District Grand Masters the formation of a working party, under the chairmanship of the Grand Secretary, to look at for example, the selection of coordinators and mentors as well as guidelines to make sure that the messages are consistent.
The aim is to have as many members as possible as ambassadors for Freemasonry. By ambassador I mean a member who not only lives as honest a life as possible, but also understands the meaning of the ritual and, importantly, is able and willing to talk about Freemasonry to family and friends. Talking openly about Freemasonry, as appropriate, is core to my philosophy, central to our communications strategy and essential to the survival of Freemasonry as a respected and relevant membership organisation. As Grand Officers I shall of course be relying upon you to give your full support to the Mentoring Scheme as it develops.
On a visit to the Province of Buckinghamshire to see their Freemasonry in the Community projects, I was particularly impressed with their iHelp youth competition – involving young groups competing for prize money to show the positive side of young people – and the Rock Ride covering a 1,500 mile bicycle ride from Gibraltar to Stowe School to raise funds for non-masonic charities within the Province. These projects are supported by the local dignitaries and are enormously important for our external image.
Another important example of our external image is the very successful event business run here at Freemasons’ Hall. As one of the unique venues of London we are highly respected within the events industry. I was pleased to hear that, last year, we had 53,000 non-masonic visitors to our events. This included London Fashion Week and an after party for the latest Harry Potter world premiere! Many of our visitors did not know that they could come into a masonic building and all of them I believe left having had a very happy experience.
This is an excerpt from the Annual Craft Investiture address by the MW The Grand Master HRH the Duke of Kent, KG, given on 27 April 2011. To read the speech in full, press here.